Gower, Deschamps, Villon: (A)moral Debates and Multiple Selves in the Medieval Francophone Ballade

Michael Anthony INGHAM

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsConference Paper (other)Researchpeer-review


The Cinkante Balades - in common with Gower’s major French work, the Mirour de L’Omme, and the ballades that form the Traitié - has been perceived as insular and rooted in Anglo-Norman literary and linguistic precedents by commentators such as Pope and Legge, following Macaulay. Conversely, it has been described as more continental and culturally Francophone in orientation by other scholars, including Ruth Dean, Brian Merrilees and Robert Yeager. In some respects this critical stylistic debate echoes the moral debate structure popular among ballade authors generally. Ironically, however, Gower’s ballade sequence has been largely ignored or deprecated by 20th century French critics. Latterly, Ardis Butterfield has adopted more of an intermediate and relative position to some of the above antithetical perspectives. She points to the pervasive incidence of generic commonplaces and citations in Gower’s work and his indebtedness to continental ballade models, such as those of Machaut, Froissart, Charles D’Orléans, Graunson and Deschamps.

Certainly most Gower critics acknowledge the distinctive and hybrid flavour of Gower’s linguistic application of continental conventions. They also cite the undoubted influence of continental ballade sequences, such as the multi-authored Livre de Cent Ballades and Machaut’s La Loange des Dames and Le Voir Dit in shaping both the form and content of Gower’s sequence. My paper will attempt to contextualise Gower’s Cinkante Balades
within a wider poetic tradition and genre, from the ballade-writing of Machaut, Deschamps and Christine de Pizan and the influential, multi-authored Livre de Cent Balades, to the distinctly individualistic ballades of Villon in the following century. The
shift away from Machaut-style ballade sans envoi toward the more contemporary Deschamps-style preference for three stanzas plus envoy, as featured in the Cinquante Balades, reflects a significant stage of evolution in the form.

Exploring Gower’s idiosyncratic exploitation of a fashionable contemporary poetic tone and style, heavily reliant on the use of commonplace, which he adopts for his own, sometimes didactic but intensely performative, purposes, it is feasible to discern an unlikely bridge between the multilingual Gower and the more celebrated Villon. Another counter-intuitive link lies in the role-playing possibilities and interactive concept afforded by the sequential ballade genre, permitting flirtation with different personas and perspectives that serve to subtly undercut prevailing moral-religious conventions. In the context of “moral Gower’s” authorship and reputation, a decidedly amoral stance, commonly associated with continental authors, is projected. My comparative study seeks to investigate the commonalities to be found between Deschamps’ and Gower’s ballades and the more celebrated exemplars featured in Villon’s Testament half a century later.
Its aim is to place Gower within a tradition and trajectory of medieval ballade-writing. The methodology involves textual analysis of the poetics and style as well as the cultural and thematic resonances of these captioned authors with pertinent examples and references to illustrate and support my arguments. This inclusive approach is atypical of medievalist scholarship to date, and therefore represents a modestly new direction following Butterfield’s wider integrative claims concerning Gower and his continental contemporaries.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Event42nd AEDEAN Conference - University of Cordoba, Cordoba, Spain
Duration: 7 Nov 20189 Nov 2018


Conference42nd AEDEAN Conference
Internet address


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